Proposed Bill Would Make Salary History Questions Unlawful

By Kathy Gurchiek Sep 9, 2016
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Legislation that would prohibit employers from asking a job applicant to provide a salary history will soon be before Congress. The bill's aim is to even the playing field among men and women and minorities doing substantially the same work.

"Women and minorities often face discrimination in the job application process and in salary negotiations," said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., in a news release. She is introducing the bill with co-sponsors Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.

A spokeswoman from Norton's office said the bill would be introduced in the House of Representatives this week or by early next week.

"Many [women and minorities] carry lower salaries for their entire careers simply because of wages at previous jobs that were set unfairly," Norton stated. "Our bill will require employers to offer salaries to prospective employees based on merit, not gender, race or ethnicity."

DeLauro pointed to Massachusetts' new pay equity law as an example of "a bold step forward in closing the wage gap." Effective Jan. 1, 2018, the legislation prevents employers from asking job candidates about their salary history in interviews, making it the first state to enact such a law.

An amendment to New York City's Human Rights Law, introduced in August, would prohibit city employers from asking for or relying on a job candidate's salary history when making pay decisions.

And while a bill awaiting California Gov. Jerry Brown's signature—or veto—would not prohibit hiring managers from asking job candidates about their current salary, it would ban employers from using that information to justify a pay differential between men and women performing substantially similar work.

One benefit of knowing a job applicant's current salary, according to a point-counterpoint article in the April 2016 issue of HR Magazine, is that it lets the hiring manager know if a candidate's current salary exceeds what the prospective employer is able or willing to pay.

Pay Disparity

An American Association of University Women (AAUW) study, Graduating to a Pay Gap, found that the pay gap between men and women starts as early as college graduation. A difference exists even among men and women who majored in the same field, SHRM Online reported in 2015. 

Additionally, women are less likely than men to negotiate their salaries, and they fare worse when they do negotiate, studies have shown. A report on gender pay inequity that the Joint Economic Council released in April 2016 found that, at the current rate of change, the gender pay gap will not close until 2059.

Pay disparity is compounded when an employer bases a job candidate's wages on that person's previous salary history, according to Norton's office.

"Employers can and should hire good employees," Nadler said in a news release, "without taking into account prior pay history or condemning someone to depressed wages due to gender and racial inequity."

A representative from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) said the global HR organization is looking forward to reviewing the proposed legislation.

"SHRM has a long history of supporting equal pay for equal work and believes any discrimination should be addressed promptly and rectified," said Kelly Hastings, senior advisor, government relations, at SHRM. 

"While SHRM believes that employers should have the ability to ask and verify previous salary history, we do not believe that previous pay should be the sole method for setting a candidate's pay. Many factors must be taken into account when setting pay for a position, such as education requirements, job tasks, the market and experience."


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